Amazing Zenyatta continues to find a way to get it done

Zenyatta took on all comers Saturday, but neither the Polytrack, David Flores’ gamesmanship nor a pace normally reserved for rush-hour traffic could stop the 6-year-old Street Cry mare.

She raised her record to 18-0 by becoming the first horse to win the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar three times. She’d already become the lone three-time winner of the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 13.

She keeps setting records, and yet some still continue to moan about who she’s raced against and make outlandish claims that this horse or that horse would teach her a lesson or two.

One national turf writer wrote last week that the best horse in the country was running Saturday, but he meant Quality Road and not Zenyatta. Earth to writer — Quality Road has now lost four times in 11 starts, and Zenyatta is undefeated in 18, having beaten such high-class opposition as Gio Ponti, Ginger Punch, Cocoa Beach, Life Is Sweet and St Trinians along the way.

In fact, Quality Road was beaten last fall by Summer Bird, one of the 11 males Zenyatta cruised by in the stretch on her way to making Breeders’ Cup history on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita.

Tell me this — if Zenyatta is so overrated, why is it none of those horses could beat her? Why, in 26 years, is she the only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

Because she’s great, folks. And it’s too bad, as jockey Mike Smith said on a conference call last week, that people find the need to knock perfection.

“If things continue as they are, if we can pull two more off, as far as I’m concerned she’ll go down as the greatest horse of all time,” said Smith, her jockey for the past 15 races who was aboard for the neck victory in the Hirsch over the game 10-1 outsider Rinterval, who set a pace so slow that the race was in danger of running over into Saturday Night Live.

Closers are not supposed to win when the early splits are 25.41, 50.61 and 1:15.11 for a mile and one sixteenth. The pacesetter is supposed to keep on going to the winner’s circle. Thing is, Rinterval was running against a machine called Zenyatta, who doesn’t allow such tactics to derail her.

No, she doesn’t win by the length of the grandstand like horses with higher cruising speeds sometimes do, but she wins. Last time I looked, that’s all that matters.

“That’s just her style,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “She has such a wonderful stride and she never really hits it until the end of the race.”

Last year, when she won the Hirsch by a head, she was clocked at 40 miles per hour by track technology when she hit the wire. This year she was traveling 38.2 miles per hour.

Must have been that extra carrot she ate Saturday morning that slowed her down.

Flores, who was aboard Zenyatta for the first three races of her career, did some keen race riding as the field of six turned for home in the Hirsch. With Zenyatta and Smith closing to his right, Flores deftly allowed Dance to My Tune to float the winner about five wide into the stretch.

“I saw David kind of look back and look for me,” Smith said. “So I decided to just play it safe and just go on around and not get cute.”

Smith decided cute would play better on a different day, like maybe Nov. 6 when Zenyatta, if all goes according to plan, tries to successfully defend her title in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Until then, she’ll have one more race — either the Zenyatta/Lady’s Secret Stakes at Oak Tree in early October or the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 2. Let’s hope it’s the Beldame so she can get off these tracks that truly hold her back and show her critics just how truly great she really is.

Not that Shirreffs needs any convincing.

“She’s the best horse in the country,” he said.

Not only the best horse in the country, but also a candidate for entertainer of the year. Her dance routine in the paddock and playing to the crowd in front of the grandstand after each victory are just two elements that make up the Zenyatta mystique.

“It’s a fun thing for her,” Smith said. “She should be entertainer of the year all the time because she loves to entertain.”

And Smith is one of her biggest fans.

“I’m a fan along with those people,” he said. “I just happen to be sitting on top of her. That’s why she came back, for her fans.”

Smith, a Hall of Fame rider who has done some of his best work aboard Zenyatta, just hopes that before her career is over she’ll be truly recognized, not just in California, but all over the country for just how great she truly is.

“To me, I appreciate her more than my life itself,” he said.

Another Hall of Famer, trainer Jack Van Berg, also has an appreciation for Zenyatta.

“I’ve seen a lot of great mares in my day,” Van Berg told Jay Hovdey of The Daily Racing Form. “Ruffian was awful good. And Rachel Alexandra, you can’t take nothing away from her. But I’ve seen Zenyatta do things I’ve never seen the best colts do.

“She comes from dead last every time. She’s got in trouble, overcome obstacles. She’s never had a rabbit for her to set the race up, and she’s had paces where they were walking up there.

“I’ve watched her train from Day 1, before she even started. When she gets rolling, it seems like she’s taking her one stride to everybody else’s two or three. Last time she ran at Hollywood Park, when it looked like she was beat, it looked like she just looked over at that other filly and took off that last little bit.”

That “other filly” was St Trinians, another of those tomato cans that Zenyatta keeps beating. Yes, the same St Trinians who defeated 2009 Ladies’ Classic champion Life Is Sweet, whom Zenyatta treated like a kid sister each time they squared off against each other during the 2009 campaign.

When Zenyatta scored victory No. 17 in the Vanity, not only did she catch St Trinians when it appeared at the sixteenth pole that she was beaten, but she also beat a horse named Zardana. Another of those tomato cans she keeps beating.

You remember Zardana, right? Beat a filly by the name of Rachel Alexandra back in March at the Fair Grounds.

In horse racing, you must be careful which cans you go around kicking.

15 thoughts on “Amazing Zenyatta continues to find a way to get it done

  1. You are so wrong. It will be proven that Rachel is truly the best female, and Quality Road, the best of all. I will bet my businesses on the pair and leave all others crying in their forms.

  2. California is not some mysterious, uncharted part of the globe. It’s right there on the map, and is well-served by various modes of transport that are suitable to bring a horse from just about anywhere. But they don’t come, for some reason. They pretend it’s the track surface, they hide behind it, when the real reason is quite straightforward: they don’t want to face a monster they know they can’t beat.

  3. Well folks – you can call me stupid too. I’m not one who’s going to spout RA accolades because shes’ suspect but I am one of those who will wait and see Zenyatta run on BC days. I’m assuming they will let her out of California to run on those days. Let her run on the dirt against more than a bunch of overmatched mares in Oaklawn and I’ll stand up and pronounce her the Horse of Whatever but not the greatest of all time – give me a break. I’m not proclaiming any horse who ran 95% of their races on poly the greatest of anything.

  4. What you choose or do not choose to proclaim is irrelevant to the facts of the matter, fortunately for those racing fans based in reality.

  5. 18 for 18, 12 grade-one victories, Breeders Cup Classic Champion, the most exciting horse to watch in the world–and even better on the dirt. She doesn’t even pin her ears back when running down game opponents in the homestretch. She apparently enjoys the exercise. But watch out when it comes time for breeding! The studs may slink out of the barn trembling.

  6. Even better on dirt?? Look, anyone who loves horse racing has to love Zenyatta, but her best Beyer on dirt is a 104. That won’t hit the board in this year’s classic.

  7. There is not a horse player in the world who doesn’t think Zenyatta is the best. We just think Moss is the biggest coward in the world who runs her against cripples and stiffs.

    He’s wasted her career beating up on nobodies.

    This is a crime against horse racing.

  8. You people keep drinking the Zenyatta Kool Aid ! Do you really believe the things that you post ? geeez, dude, get a life. What was her Beyer ? Like a 64 ?
    Put her on a plane heading east. If you think she’ll prevail, I’ve got some stock in some energy drink that I’ll sell you.

  9. The humidity and heat must be high again on the East Coast. 64 Beyer number? LOL

    I’ll just keep watching her win and enjoy every minute of it! :)

  10. “Let’s hope it’s the Beldame so she can get off these tracks that truly hold her back and show her critics just how truly great she really is.”

    Zenyatta’s fans, not her critics, want her to take the top horses on and beat them and show the world how truly great she really is. Mike is too harsh with her owners in his post – the Mosses are not cowards, they are in showbiz and care about Zenyatta as a rock star. But this Zenyatta fan think she might be the greatest racehorse ever and that the Mosses are wasting her on showbiz when she could be up there with Secretariat.

    I’m not “criticizing perfection”, I’m criticizing low aspirations.

  11. I’m an easterner, and I’m content to see Zenyatta on TV, and, east or west, I don’t care where she is running.
    I’ve been around long enough where I no longer take the enjoyment and exhilaration of such a champion’s races for granted. I exhalt in every second of their performances and thank God they come back safe.
    Reaching such a record is remarkable, and doing it with her running style makes it even more incredible.
    I don’t believe her ability is mythic, it’s real and it’s there for all of us to enjoy.
    But she has reached a level where, if someone wants to challenge her, they have to make the first move.
    I can’t blame the Mosses for treating her well. She runs relatively often, and she doesn’t disappoint. What more do you want?

  12. IF someone want’s to say Zenyatta is the best synthetic horse ever, then fine I’ll give anyone that because that is all she has ever proved. People keep saying she the greatest horse ever, best horse to ever race in Cali, all these ridiculous statements are just that ridiculous. I say really So what if she won the Breeders Cup Classic on synthetics against turf horses. Does anyone think that the surface wasn’t the reason for the tri to be filled with synthetic and turf horses the last two years in the classic? That Curlin and Summer Bird arguably the two best dirt horse in the country for those two years both came in 4th. That dirt horses are something like 0-43 on the fake stuff. She is a great synthetic horse, that is all she has ever proven and at low odds on Breeders Cup day win or lose, she is a terrible play. I’ll pass and take the proven “dirt” horses who will also be faster on paper.

  13. I’m steering clear of the negativity some people seem to project. Like this neurotic poster named ‘Draynay’ who has this obsessive-compulsive urge to spend hundreds of hours articulating his contempt for a horse. Today’s racing has changed; some people are trapped in a 1970’s time warp and have decided to make Zenyatta the representation of everything they loathe about today’s sport.

    The reality is that synthetic race tracks are here to stay. Rather than attacking Zenyatta and her fans, it might be more constructive to lobby government officials and the horse racing industry to revert back to traditional dirt surfaces. Major tracks like Woodbine, Arlington, Keeneland, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood, etc. use them. The Dubai World Cup is even ran on synthetics.

    I personally think we should ask we should ask ourselves why we jumped so fast to install synthetic tracks before learning more about them. There is an obvious political dimension, with animal rights and welfare advocates demanding better treatment of horses (if not an outright ban of the sport). Horse racing fans haven’t been blessed with all of the high profile breakdowns such as Barbaro and Eight Belles. Many have reasonably argued that we have unsound breeding practices, with an inordinate focus on precocity/speed to the exclusion of stamina. There is too much inbreeding as well.

    Irrespective of our opinions on the relative accomplishments of this horse, it’s terribly self-defeating to bash fellow enthusiasts who happen to have divergent opinions. If anything, Zenyatta represents an opportunity to bring newer fans into the game. She has undeniable pop culture appeal and has breathed fresh air into a dying sport, which is propped up by slot machines and poker tables.

    One unique aspect of Zenyatta’s career is that she’s stayed in the game for nearly three years. This is almost unprecedented in this day and age. When competitive horses stick around for a while, it enables the formation of all-important emotional connections. We desparately need to attract a younger age demographic if we want our sport to survive.

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